The list of the individuals who, at one point or another during their careers, held the World Wrestling Federation/World Wrestling Entertainment World Championship would make for its own version of a professional wrestling Hall of Fame. Legendary figures such as Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Bruno Sammartino, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock, “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels and so many others who are viewed as all-time great WWE performers were given the highest honor that can be bestowed upon an active in-ring worker. You could even throw WWE Chairman Vince McMahon into the mix, although his title reign was rather forgettable.
But what of the men who were never given an opportunity to carry the ball and hold the WWE World Championship? That list is arguably just as impressive as is the directory of wrestlers who won that particular title. Performers such as Sting, Harley Race, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, “The Enforcer” Arn Anderson, “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and many others who helped shape pro wrestling during and even after their careers were never given chances to show that they could be the top wrestler worthy of working main events as the champion in WWE.
Not every talented wrestler mentioned in this piece is regarded as a “legend” of the industry, but that does not mean that the individuals who fall underneath that category could not, in an ideal scenario, have carried the WWE World Championship for even a brief amount of time. Some men, such as Scott Hall, have been their own worst enemies during their wrestling careers. Others, such as Owen Hart, were victims of tragic circumstances that could and should have been avoided. The younger Hart brother may not have broken ratings records with the WWE World Championship around his waste, but it is too bad that we’ll never know what could have been.
20. William Regal
There is an argument to be made that William Regal may be one of the more under-appreciated World Championship Wrestling and WWE performers in history. Regal aged like a fine wine as an in-ring worker, and he continues to show on NXT broadcasts that he can be an entertaining persona in the industry. Putting the WWE World Championship on Regal likely would not have resulted in a new “wrestling boom” for promotions, but the company has had worse title holders. The hope now is that Regal will get to have one real retirement match at a big-time WWE event.
19. Magnum TA
Magnum TA was seemingly on his way to winning a world championship and being one of the top babyface performers in the industry when a car accident permanently ended his career in the mid-1980s. That was a time when wrestlers were making transitions to and from companies, and so it is not a crazy notion to suggest that Magnum would have worked for the WWE at some point during his career. Had Magnum never been involved in that serious accident and had his rise never been cut short, he may have one day held the WWE World Championship once or twice.
18. Jesse Ventura
There are several ways that the WWE could have gone about putting the world championship on Jesse “The Body” Ventura. Ventura could have been given a gimmick of a proven fighter who entered the WWE after a military career. His cocky in-ring character made for a heel world champion that would draw crowds of fans hoping to see him get what was coming to him. Ventura used his promo skills to pick up commentary work in the WWE and WCW, and there is no question that his days in pro wrestling helped prepare him for a successful political career. He was never a world champion, though, despite the fact that he had the goods to carry the strap.
17. Arn Anderson
Arn Anderson was more than “The Enforcer” of the Four Horsemen or the friend of Ric Flair. Anderson was an underrated worker who eventually found his own voice on the microphone and who proved that he could carry himself as a singles star and champion. Imagine if the WWE would have been able to have Flair and Anderson working in the company as solo wrestlers in the early 1990s when the company put the world championship on the “Nature Boy.” Anderson pinning Flair for the title would have provided a special moment, even if Anderson’s reign would have been short-lived.
16. Owen Hart
All signs pointed to Owen Hart winning the WWE World Championship as a babyface following the events of the “Montreal Screwjob” that resulted in his brother Bret leaving the company for WCW. Hart, who remained in the WWE following that fateful night, was put into a feud with heel champion Shawn Michaels, but that program was scrapped almost as quickly as it appeared on WWE programming. That was as close as Hart would get, in storyline, to winning the WWE World Championship, and he tragically died at the Over the Edge pay-per-view in 1999.
15. Jimmy Snuka
Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka was a performer ahead of his time in that he put high-flying moves on display during an era when fans were not used to seeing a Shooting Star Press or even a Moonsault at every other show. Snuka contributed quite a bit to the WWE and to the history of the sport, but a WWE World Championship run is something that he never achieved. We now live in a world where Snuka may become a forgotten WWE performer because of a detailed and strange legal matter, one that saw the wrestler charged with a serious crime 32 years after the fact.
14. Bam Bam Bigelow
Well before larger performers such as Rusev and Mike Awesome wowed crowds with their athletic skills inside of the wrestling ring, Bam Bam Bigelow was a big man flying off of the top rope and even doing cartwheels during matches. Billed to be over 350 pounds during his days in the WWE and WCW, “The Beast From the East” known for the flame tattoo that covered his bald head proved that he could carry a top-tier storyline when he feuded New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor. Bigelow and Taylor worked in the main event of WrestleMania XI.
13. Scott Hall
Forget all you know about the Scott Hall who has publicly battled addiction and depression for nearly two decades, and instead recall the man who helped change North American professional wrestling as one of the founding members of the New World Order. In the 1990s and even the early 2000s, Hall was a physically gifted athlete and a talented in-ring worker who was over with fans because of his runs in the WWE and WCW and also because of his promo skills. Hall, while at his best, would have made for an entertaining WWE World Champion, but his demons got the best of him on multiple occasions.
He may not have the legendary status of an Andre the Giant, but Big Van Vader, or Vader, is probably the most skilled big man to have ever worked in North American promotions such as WCW and the WWE. Vader was booked to be a nearly unbeatable monster in multiple companies, but the WWE thought it wise to turn him into just another foe to be downed by then-champion Shawn Michaels. Considering that the WWE had Michaels drop the belt to, of all people, Sid, it may have been best for everybody had Vader won the WWE World Championship from Michaels only for the babyface “Heartbreak Kid” to ultimately win the title back.
11. Jerry “The King” Lawler
Remember back in the 1990s when the WWE chose to give Bob Backlund one final WWE World Championship run? The company could have gone a different route and picked Jerry “The King” Lawler as the man to carry that belt during a feud with Bret “Hitman” Hart. Lawler, said to have had an astonishing 168 championship reigns during his wrestling career, had good chemistry with Hart inside of the ring, and Lawler could do more than carry his own on the microphone. It was not meant to be, though, and Lawler thus never added a WWE World Championship reign to his resume.
10. Ted DiBiase
No, wrestling diehards who are yearning to make a point upon seeing the name of Ted DiBiase on this list, it does not count that “The Million Dollar Man” once purchased the WWE World Championship. More on that later. DiBiase was a perfect heel character for the 1980s, a comic book figure who, in storyline, had an unending amount of wealth through some business ventures and who carried around a belt that was made of diamonds just because he could. Wrestling doesn’t always have to be so serious, and DiBiase carrying the WWE World Championship could have been fun.
9. Ricky Steamboat
One of the best babyfaces to ever work in the NWA, WCW and the WWE, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat is largely remembered for his feud with Ric Flair, one that produced multiple matches that were rated five stars by Wrestling Observer editor Dave Meltzer. While Steamboat never held the WWE World Championship, he did, along with Randy Savage, give the company a match to remember at WrestleMania III. That match is commonly referred by fans and journalists as one of the greatest Intercontinental Championship encounters in WWE history, and it is a match that should be studied by all up-and-coming pro wrestlers.
8. Curt Hennig
Call him Curt Hennig. Call him Mr. Perfect. There should have been a time when wrestling fans referred to him as a WWE World Champion. Hennig was a gifted legitimate athlete who could hang with the best in the business during his prime. He was a classic heel who talked the talk on the microphone but who also walked the walk during matches and during those unforgettable vignettes. Hennig may, all things considered, be the greatest performer to have never won the WWE World Championship, and the company has never produced a heel quite like his Mr. Perfect character.
7. Harley Race
Harley Race won championships across many organizations, he is a member of multiple halls of fame, and he was a successful heel manager who worked with wrestlers such as Lex Luger and Vader. Race was not given the WWE World Championship during his run in that company, however, as he was instead turned into “King” Harley Race, a classic heel who forced defeated opponents to “bow” to him after matches. Those who want to see Race holding meaningful championships can do so by reviewing his career via the WWE Network. You may find that you want to skip the King Harley era of his career.
There is a possibility that Sting may one day earn the right to no longer be mentioned in this list. The icon who remained with WCW through the last day of that company and who helped TNA Wrestling stay afloat on cable television for years is now a member of the WWE, and those running the company could choose to honor him with one WWE World Championship run before Sting rides off into the sunset. That, at this stage of Sting’s career, is an unnecessary step. Sting is in his mid-50s and in the twilight of his career. He can still be used by the WWE, certainly, but not as a world champion.
5. Andre the Giant
As difficult as it may be to believe, Andre the Giant never actually won the WWE World Championship. The greatest big man in the history of pro wrestling was presented with the title after a championship match, sure, but it was later learned that the entire thing was a storyline scam pulled off by Ted DiBiase. DiBiase had paid Andre off so that he could be the champion, and “The Million Dollar Man” even had a fake Earl Hebner count the pinfall against Hulk Hogan. The championship was vacated by WWF President Jack Tunney, and Andre never notched a true WWE World Championship victory before the end of his career.
4. Rick Rude
“Ravishing” Rick Rude was, on paper, an ideal performer to carry the WWE World Championship during his prime. Rude had the look of a champion who worked in WWE main events during the 1980s and early 1990s. He could draw noteworthy reactions from crowds during interviews, and he also had Bobby “The Brain” Heenan serving as a mouthpiece. Rude was not always the smoothest performer in the ring, but he could still get the job done versus babyface opponents. What could have been memorable storylines featuring Rude as a heel WWE World Champion never saw the light of day.
3. Jake Roberts
To understand how Jake “The Snake” Roberts makes it so high on this list, you must put the version of the man who has struggled with personal demons for years out of your mind and instead remember the wrestler who was a massive star in the WWE in the 1980s. The WWE could have put the world championship on Roberts as a babyface or as a heel at that time, as his in-ring work and promo skills were unique and, in some ways, better than what anybody else was doing in the company. Just imagine how the in-arena crowd would have reacted had Roberts hit his “DDT” finisher before winning the WWE World Championship. That celebration would have lived on for generations.
2. Roddy Piper
Roddy Piper didn’t need the WWE World Championship to get over with fans or to become a star known even to non-wrestling fans. Piper was a once-in-a-generation talent who helped make the WWF a mainstream product due to his work leading up to and at the first ever WrestleMania, and he turned his fame and recognition into an acting career that included television and movie roles. Piper would have made a fine world champion in the WWE or WCW, but alas his time to carry the gold never came. He was nevertheless an icon of the industry, one who sadly passed away in the summer of 2015.
1. Dusty Rhodes
Diehard wrestling fans who were watching the WWF when Dusty Rhodes made his way to the company in the late 1980s probably remember that his character was treated like a joke. He was the “common man” who wore yellow polka-dotted outfits to the ring, and Rhodes was never given the respect that he received while working in the NWA/Jim Crockett Promotions. Rhodes would return to WCW in the early 1990s to serve as a commentator on television programs and pay-per-view events. He was eventually inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, but that the company did not trust or want him to carry the world championship is, to this day, an insult.